Customer relations key to success

Getting closer to the customer is a key objective of Cheshire producer Jim Stratton, as he aims to boost premiums from his 100-cow suckler herd by starting a box beef scheme and farm shop.

But in the meantime, he is getting to grips with managing a new farm.

Grazing on heavy clay soils and introducing more clover to cut nitrogen inputs were particular issues, he told delegates at this year’s British Grassland Society Summer Meeting.

The Limousin x Holstein Friesian herd is based on 157ha (387 acres) at Churton Heath Farm, Bruera and calves in spring to either Limousin, Blonde or Charolais bulls.

The plan is to calve in spring and autumn to supply the market year round and split fields to improve grazing efficiency.

“We have set up a system to fatten enough cattle to sell from the farm gate and are looking to finish at 500-550kg.

We are also switching to traditional breeds, such as Welsh Black, Hereford and Angus bulls,” he said.

“We took this farm on in March 2005 and are still finding out what drainage is under each field.

At the end of May this year water was standing in the fields and we had to house 60 cattle.

Now the clay is as solid as a rock and cracked.”

Digging out ditches around a 22ha (55-acre) ridge and furrow field opened up an old horseshoe drain.

Water sitting in the furrows ran out of the drain into the ditch and continued to do so for three weeks.

Discussion among delegates also revealed water will percolate heavy land when it’s drained properly underneath.

Fellow Cheshire producer Arthur Fearnall said blocked tile drains could be jetted.

“It’s expensive and time consuming, but worth it – we did 15 acres at 150/acre.

And they were in better condition than plastic drains put in 25 years ago.

You need plans though,” he said.

In addition to drainage, Mr Stratton wants to tackle large resident weed population before adding clover to swards.

Recent reseeds have yet to achieve good ground cover and he discussed with delegates the benefits of further reseeding or using sheep to graze swards down and promote tillering to get some bottom in new leys.